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Hello all I absolutely love Tony Hancock as watching him doing the shows episodes like The Radio Ham were he tries to save the man with a sinking boat makes me laugh everytime I see it. I would strongly recommend this DVD to anyone who wants a good laugh or just to watch one of Britains finest comedians. I would Recommend getting the Tony Hancock movies The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man and the complete Tony Hancock BBC Collection from amazon for £15.99 for anyone who is a big fan of this man like I am. I suggest watching this with family or friends for the most enjoyment and share the fun and the pure art that is Tony Hancock. I recommend getting the tv version of Tony Hancocks shows as the radio version is nice to listen to but I feel watching the man act out the scripts with stars like Sid James is much funnier seeing their reactions to each other. In this DVD you get:
The radio ham
The blood donor
I have always enjoyed British TV comedy and still have a soft spot for the "Carry On" films. I love seeing comedy films from the 1950s onwards and try to spot the familiar face from a huge repertoire of British comedy performers.
One of the biggest names in comedy from that period however was Tony Hancock - and he appeared in very few films in his career. Hancock made his name on radio and then became essential viewing on television in the late 1950s to early 1960s. His film career consists of two starring roles in films of variable quality and a handful of supporting roles in films which are largely forgotten today, with the possible exception of "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines".
It was in this film that I first learned of Hancock. I remember watching it as a child and my father saying what a funny man Hancock had been and how sad it had been he had died at the early age of 44. Back then of course we didn't have access to older programming unless it was repeated on TV and it wasn't until I was an adult that I was introduced properly to the work of Tony Hancock, through an extensive retrospective period on the BBC in the mid 1980s.
For the first time I was able to see why his BBC TV show had been such required viewing and why he was so popular. All the scripts for his BBC shows were written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the men who also created Steptoe & Son, and it is to their credit that they were able to create a character which was based on Hancock himself but was one or two steps removed.
Tony Hancock was born in Birmingham in 1924 but spent most of his formative years in Bournemouth.
His career took off on radio after the war when he joined the cast of "Educating Archie" which was the top comedy show of the era, and in 1954 he got his own radio show "Hancock's Half Hour". The show featured several sidekicks over the years, including Hattie Jacques, Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams, but the only performer from the radio show which transferred over to the show when it moved to television in 1956 was Sid James.
The show was a huge hit and in an era before video recorders his shows were capable of clearing the streets for 30 minutes such was their popularity.
Hancock was obsessed with evolving as a performer and it became something of a pattern in his career to discard performers or writers he had worked with as he moved on to something new, so Sid James found himself out in the cold for the 1961 season and then after the 1961 season concluded Hancock decided to leave both the BBC and Galton & Simpson.
His career never hit the same heights thereafter however. Spike Milligan once commented in the 80s that he considered Hancock a "very difficult man to get on with. He used to drink excessively. You felt sorry for him. He ended up on his own. I thought, he's got rid of everybody else, he's going to get rid of himself and he did". I think this is an unfair assessment however - towards the end of his life Hancock was a hopeless alcoholic and he seemed to embark on an almost unstoppable path of self destruction and depressive behaviour which included having an affair with his best friend John Le Mesurier's wife. Hancock's desire to evolve as a performer was what was behind much of his reasoning for "getting rid" of people and it's actually quite easy to understand his reasoning for removing Sid James from his TV show to move the show along to a solo affair - certainly in the episodes he produced without James you don't really notice he is missing. However it's fair to say that once he left Galton & Simpson the work he did elsewhere quite simply wasn't as popular with the public.
Hancock committed suicide in 1968 whilst in Australia making a TV show which moved his old persona down under. His suicide note read "things just seemed to go wrong too many times" . I think the biggest tragedy of this was the fact a man who desperately wanted to evolve had found himself having to revert to past glories to earn a living and the episodes that survive show Hancock back in his homburg hat and dark coat with the astrakhan collar.
~~The Best of Hancock~~
This is a slight DVD - it was issued in 2001 and features five of the six episodes from Hancock's final BBC series from 1961, which was also his swansong with Galton & Simpson writing. This was the only series he did at the BBC which wasn't called "Hancock's Half Hour" - with the name changed purely because the BBC decided to cut the running time to 25 minutes with an eye on overseas sales.
The series also finds Hancock having moved from Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, which was his abode with Sid James and eschewing his famed black coat and homburg hat. He is now a single man living in a bedsitter in Earls Court.
All the episodes are in black and white and the picture and sound quality is variable due to the early videotape used to record them. It's worth trying to see past the inferior technology used to film these shows because the comedy on offer is excellent even allowing for the fact it's almost fifty years old.
The first episode introduces us to Hancock's new abode as he tries to pass the time on a boring Sunday afternoon. At this point I think it's fair to say that back in 1961 there was much less to do on a Sunday than there is now and Hancock is trying to educate himself with a little reading.
This episode is an excellent introduction to Hancock and the persona Galton & Simpson had created for him. We have a man who considers himself to be superior to others due to his academic prowess, charm and handsome good looks but in reality is a delusional loser.
Hancock was a clown and was masterful at creating facial expressions which were both incredibly funny but also incredibly moving. Watching his face as he reads a book in this episode is an absolute joy, as is his need to constantly refer to the dictionary as he works his way through books, whether they be the latest by philosopher Bertrand Russell or the pulp fiction thriller "Lady Don't Fall Backwards".
Throw in the frustrations of watching television in an era when the signal frequently went and you were reliant on moving the indoor aerial repeatedly for a half decent picture and you can see why Hancock is so delighted to get a phone call and make the very most of it, even though it is a wrong number.
This episode features only Hancock himself in the cast and it works very well for that as he captures the boredom of bedsitter life.
This is my favourite Hancock episode, and for me it works as a brilliant pastiche of how the BBC tried to overshadow the launch of ITV in 1955 by killing off Grace Archer in the farming soap.
Hancock is an actor who plays old Joshua Merriweather on radio soap opera "The Bowmans" and is both a ham and a terrible upstager. Having driven his fellow cast members and the show's director to distraction over the years, he finds his character is to be killed off.
I love "The Bowmans" for several reasons. It enables Hancock to be at his most delusional best - his performances as Joshua are hilarious for many reasons, not just his inability to capture a "rural" accent or his determination to keep the actor who voices his dog down. The supporting cast is good too, with Patrick Cargill being allowed to be both incredibly superior and incredibly obsequious as the show's director and being hilariously convincing at both. Peter Glaze, who would later become a favourite of mine through Crackerjack is excellent as the voice actor who plays Joshua's dog, allowing his indignation to shine every time Hancock tries to upstage him.
***The Radio Ham***
In a world where you can talk to people all over the world with just a small computer and the internet, it's fascinating to see how people communicated back in 1961. This episode shows Hancock in his bedsitter surrounded by equipment which is both incredibly cumbersome and incredibly unreliable. The programme begins with Hancock having to replace faulty valves on his radio equipment and then conversing with his "regulars" all over the world about the mundane - until, that is - he picks up a Mayday message from a stricken ship somewhere off the coast of Sierra Leone.
Hancock is at his incompetent and frustrating best here, capturing a man who quite simply cannot cope under pressure - never mind the fact his neighbours don't seem to appreciate the urgency of the word "mayday" and are more concerned with the noise he is making.
Hancock finds himself awaiting the lift at BBC Television Centre with a motley bunch of people including a vicar, an air marshall and a smarmy producer. The lift takes an interminable time to arrive and Hancock ignores the orders of the lift operator to enter despite being told the lift only takes "eight persons" and adding him makes nine.
This episode reveals Hancock as an irritating man to be stuck in a lift with - actually scrub that - just an irritating man - as he allows his delusions and petty prejudices to alienate everyone around him. Hancock's skill as a performer however is his ability to annoy everyone around him onscreen yet keep the audience onside and this is particularly evident in The Lift.
This is another ensemble piece and features John Le Mesurier as the air marshall and the wonderfully dotty Noel Howlett as the vicar - who is the only person in the lift not become exasperated with Hancock.
***The Blood Donor***
This is probably the best known Hancock episode, and features a pompous Hancock attempting to donate a pint of blood. The episode shows Hancock at his cowardly and delusional best and once again features Patrick Cargill as the doctor who is on hand to take the blood and a very young June Whitfield as the exasperated nurse who deals with his initial enquiry.
Hancock used "idiot boards" when recording this show following a car accident which left him unable to learn his lines in time for the recording of this episode. As a result there are times when you can see he isn't looking directly at the actor he is sharing lines with but it doesn't take anything away from the enjoyment of what is a very funny and classic example of British comedy.
The DVD contains a visual artist profile which over 7 pages presents a potted history of Hancock's life and career. Better is a 20 minute interview with Galton and Simpson as they recall their working relationship with Hancock and reminisce about the episodes featured here.
The DVD also has a scene selection and the total running time is 126 minutes.
The presentation on the DVD is decent enough when you consider these are very early tele recordings from fifty years ago. To modern eyes they do look very old however - everything is in black and white and the shows are presented in the old 4:3 format which will probably suit purists but I do wish there was the option to watch these episodes in widescreen too. Clips from the shows which feature in the interview with Galton & Simpson are in widescreen format so it can't be an impossibility.
What makes this such an enjoyable DVD is Hancock himself however. He is quite simply a wonderful clown - a man who with just the slightest of gestures can turn a mundane situation into something which is incredibly funny. His ability to get the audience on his side even in the most unsympathetic of circumstances also reveals how he could gain sympathy in situations which would have audiences revulsed by almost any other performer.
The scripts are fantastic too. This isn't generally visual humour - although Hancock's facial expressions are a delight - this is word based humour and Galton & Simpson's words are well chosen along with the situations they place Hancock in. They have a certain amount of poetic licence of course because Hancock doesn't have the same status in life or job in every single episode meaning in some episodes he is a terrible loser in life from start to finish whereas in others he is able to come out on top.
Hancock's influence on other comedians cannot be denied either. Ricky Gervais' delusional David Brent owes much to Hancock's comic persona of this era, as does much of Steve Coogan's work.
The DVD captures Hancock at the peak of his TV fame and works as a wonderful introduction to a pioneer of British TV comedy. Sadly for Hancock it was downhill from hereon in until he chose to end his life in a Sydney hotel room in June 1968, thus depriving Britain of a comic genius.
I purchased my copy of this in Sainsburys for £4 - it's available on Amazon for around £4.49.